Fourcast! 68: What’s It All About

November 29th, 2010 by | Tags: ,

-Ever disagree with someone and be like, “Wow, [that idea] is totally way off kilter and crazy!”
-I totally thought that when Esther wrote this post in response to a lightly NSFW post I wrote about Flex Mentallo and supersex.
-Why not do a podcast about our competing and almost definitely irreconcilable views on superheroes?
-So, we’re hashing it out on wax, and Esther realizes it before I do…
-But we don’t disagree very much at all, do we?
-Like I ever let something like that stop an argument.
-Regardless, I’m inflicting this conversation on you, dearest reader, so click play and tune in.
-6th Sense’s 4a.m. Instrumental for the theme music.
-See you, space cowboy!

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6 comments to “Fourcast! 68: What’s It All About”

  1. really dug this one. 🙂

  2. I think part of the reason creators started writing more mean spirited, superheroes are assholes type stories comes from the creators’ anger/frustration at having to write superhero comics when they actually want to write comics about _____ (War comics – Ennis, Sci-Fi – Ellis etc.) Even though in those cases the writers are in a position to write what they want I think some creators still feel very resentful of the fact that super heroes dominate the market.

    Absolutely agree that super hero stories need to avoid situations in which heroes should realistically kill people.

    good 4cast as always.

  3. I think you needed Watchmen to show us what happens with applying social realism to comics: it changes reality.

    Superhero comics work on the conceit that heroes, despite having great powers, keep the status quo. Before Moore came in with Miracleman, Swamp Thing, then Watchmen, we had the Bronze Age Superman not using his great power to change things politically and socially. Sure, we had Green Arrow and Green Lantern being questioned about why they don’t talk to brown skins or why consumerism runs rampant…but Green Lantern has a ring that could solve the world’s energy crisis in a snap, but does nothing.

    Umberto Eco, in his famous essay about Superman, points out that once a hero gains a civic consciousness beyond the minor battles he fights, he gains a political and social consciousness. This happens all the time in mythology and heroic legends. Once the knight is finished with his quest, he settles down and becomes the king. He goes from being civic minded to politically minded.

    If you read Miracleman, you have the first incident when a hero decides that he can make these social and political changes to make the world a better place. This is followed by Squadron Supreme, the New Universe, and then Watchmen. In each incidence, the heroes gain political and social consciousness and remake the world in their own image. The knight becomes the troubled king who must make decisions to save the world at the cost of their own humanity.

    Framing this idea has always been tricky in a contemporary setting because of the serialized nature of comics and that many superhero comics do not have an end-point. They work in a way that allows anyone to pick it up and figure out the mythology fairly quickly, like in a long-running soap opera. You can’t have main characters destroying real cities nor can you ignore when property is destroyed in real life (like comics post-9-11 that have dealt with the impact in different ways).

    While Moore seems to be the forerunner for much of the work in the early 90s, I’ve always seen the work in the late 90s a result of Morrison’s work on Zenith, which is very Generation X (the generation, not the comic book), that was very critical of the Baby Boomer generation’s ideals that were shown to be tainted and bogus in the late 80s/early 1990s. It took a generation of writers to grow into the boom-crash of the late 1990s/early ’00s where many comics about superheroes went dark precisely because they had grown up skeptical of Baby Boomer government. Warren Ellis’ work in particular seems to deal with the 1960s in a very satirical and biting way (from his pacifist/eco protesting hitmen, to his 1960s group that turned into cannibals in Stormwatch, to his critique of the space program in Global Frequency).

    I don’t think these creators are necessarily mean-spirited towards Superheroes. Superheroes always represent some sort of power-base. Sometimes they keep their potential because they stay in this “Knight’s Errand/Quest” zone that never has a resolution in mind, so therefore anyone can put any ideology behind them and be happy with the outcome (like Superman or Batman, characters who never age and who never insight or awareness of how they could politically and socially save the world). Sometimes, they move forward onto the role of the “king”, and suddenly you see the cracks and their ideology becomes more apparent because they take an ideological stand (i.e. the heroes in the Boys are stand-ins for Haliburton and Blackwater…the character V in V for Vendetta is the voice of anarchy…etc).

  4. It’s funny how you didn’t mention it (did I miss it?), but this serves as a pretty good companion to that old post Mr. Brothers did about the Black Panther and Dr. Doom, specifically the lack of Dr. Doom being haled before a war crimes tribunal at least, or killed on the spot as an armed combatant enemy soldier at worst. Yeah, you can’t let the metaphorical Hitler off with a warning, so the conclusion is don’t write stories about the metaphorical Hitler in superhero books.

    I disagree.

    One of my least favorite parts of (some) superhero comics is the slippery slope argument about self-defense/defense-of-others homicide. As if there is this binary choice that anyone with powers (or a gimmick and billions of dollars) has to make, that boils down to either a)not killing anybody ever or b)killing everybody who looks at you funny. I think that’s what you’re applying to Batman, and characters like him.

    This seems to come up a bit more often in DC, with the possible exception of the GL books, which for a time became like a rather acceptable war comic featuring heroes (“our” soldiers) killing villains (enemy soldiers). And even then I’m not 100% sure Hal Jordan himself ever *actually* killed a Sinestro Corpsman at the behest of his alien paymasters.

    But it gets subverted from time to time.

    Probably my favorite part of Final Crisis was that Batman finally attempted to kill someone who was in the process of mass murder and fascist conquest and did not make a big deal out of it. But while that’s nice, it’s inconsistent–if Batman can shoot Darkseid, why can’t he break the Joker’s neck? Why is Darkseid’s life worth less? I’m not sure this has been extensively commented on beyond the “gun exception” aspect of it, which is purely fetishistic. Batman tried to kill a guy. New God, supervillain, crack dealer, I’m not sure I see the qualitative difference. (Frankly, I don’t see the difference in dismantling Brother Eye back in Infinite Crisis, versus the moral “quandary” Bats faced when he wanted to likewise dismantle Alex Luthor at the climax of that book. But it’s kind of clear that Geoff Johns didn’t intend Bruce to actually be “killing” anyone when he destroyed HAL, presumably because of institutional bigotry versus any machine life not named Red Tornado.)

    In any event, this sort of rational, morally good action should be, but likely never shall be, embraced.

    Of course, then there’s Captain America, who’s probably killed like a thousand people, and assisted regular G.I.’s in killing thousands more. Most were Nazis, but some were terrorists. Some were vampires, I think. You know he would’ve killed Thanos back in Gauntlet if he weren’t so hilariously outmatched. But despite killing, Cap’s an okay dude. He might have the most normal moral code of anyone in comics, and represents a pretty healthy medium between those two binary extremes, which are equally ridiculous–Batman never, ever killing somebody, yet constantly permitting others to die for his inaction, and the Punisher thrillkilling through the population of a small country, yet never hunted down and crippled by, say, Iron Man, or competent policemen. You could also fudge the crazy dissonances like your “good”, never-kill heroes like Spidey willingly hanging out with murderous leches like Wolverine or even deigning to work at all with someone like Castle.

    So I can agree that such moral “quandary” stories sort of break the superhero *serial.* It’s boring to see Batman rage at the Joker and not kill him for the five hundredth time. And it’s transparent and stupid why the Black Panther doesn’t execute Dr. Doom, as Mr. Brothers pointed out some while back. So when you have stories with these stakes and these body counts, there’s no satisfying way of actually concluding it without crossing into weird, often inept, territory.

    I don’t agree that placing heroes in situations where they should and do kill necessarily breaks the superhero *genre.* There’s a very pleasant middle-ground that could be occupied by people who possess ordinary, non-crazy moral codes that permit killing in qualified, special circumstances.

    Plus, I’d like the Joker dead, because I’m tired of him forever. I think it would help the situation a lot if villains were not kill-for-the-sake-of-killing monsters that 90% of them have evolved into at this point in the always-trying-to-top-itself serial narrative. A good reason not to kill somebody is because there’s good *in* them, and you just don’t see that as much in the past decade, even from the old standbys like Doom or Magneto or (arguably) Luthor.

  5. Really, I think the best thing is just not to point out how ridiculous it is. Batman and Robin had the Joker desecrate a Wayne family crypt and then try to set off a nuclear weapon in Gotham city. If this were the grim-n-gritty batdays, he’d gone off and done his will-I-won’t-I routine, and logically anyone who tried to nuke an American city would probably get a bullet in the head regardless of sanity. But the entire issue is sidestepped by just not mentioning it.

  6. The description really makes me want to give this post a listen. It sounds like a captivating exchange. I’m actually anxious to scoop this up. Thanks for that.

    I’m like Jakita Wagner, these days.